As the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) officially dropped "interim" from his title this week, newly elected Chairman Doug Little laid out what’s ahead in what could be a challenging year for the utility regulators.
“There are a lot of important issues that will be coming before this commission over the next 12 to 18 months and the decisions we make will have a direct impact on the citizens of Arizona,” Little told Arizona Business Daily.
Little, a Republican, was approved in December by the ACC to serve as the interim chairman to replace former ACC Chairwoman Susan Bitter Smith, who resigned amid conflict of interest charges filed by the state's attorney general. Earlier this month, the Arizona Supreme Court declined to hear the case regarding Bitter Smith’s work with a cable television group, saying it’s moot given she has resigned. Nevertheless, the attorney general has said a criminal investigation remains open.
Little, an accomplished businessman who spent more than 30 years in the computer software industry, was named chairman during an open meeting of the ACC today.
In outlining the commission's greatest challenges going forward, Little said a big one will be the handling of several large rate cases this year as well as a major hearing as the ACC makes some important decisions on distributed generation.
“I think there are challenges that can be overcome in finding the right balance between the traditional utilities and the expansion of solar in the market," Little said. "I have met with the head of SolarCity recently, and I am very encouraged that we can make progress."
Specifically, Little was referring to efforts to broker a compromise between big utilities and SolarCity Corp. of San Mateo, California, the largest solar installer in Arizona and around the country. Rooftop-panel installers such as SolarCity have feared regulators might reduce solar subsidies.
The other main challenge the ACC will face focuses on the small water companies, Little said.
“Many of these companies only have a very few customers, and they are struggling with high infrastructure improvement costs and having to pass on those costs to their customers," he said. "We need to find solutions to help them maintain their business without the risk of customers facing staggering increases in their bills."
Little added that along with his fellow commissioners and ACC staff, they plan to do the best job possible for the people of Arizona.
“We are absolutely committed to ensuring a fair, balanced and comprehensive evaluation of all the issues that come before us at the commission,” Little said.
Also during the ACC’s monthly open meeting, Andy Tobin was sworn in as a commissioner. Before his ACC appointment, Tobin served as director of the Arizona Department of Insurance, which regulates insurance companies, agents, brokers and licensing, and consumer protections.
“We decided in December’s staff meeting that we would wait until Mr. Tobin is on the commission so he too would have an opportunity to participate in the vote for a permanent chairman,” Little said.
Arizona’s five elected ACC commissioners regulate electric and water utilities, railroad crossings, telecommunications, and securities. The job pays $80,000 a year, and commissioners are elected to four-year terms.
“It is an honor to be in this position,” Little said. “It is a role that I take very seriously as we work in the best interests of the people of Arizona.”